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If You Teach a Dog Some Physics

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

Physics is a science that studies our natural world. Physics studies motion (how things move), forces (push and pull), and energy. The 'things' that are being studied in Physics can be super tiny or extremely large (like galaxies).

Sir Isaac Newton was a British scientist. He was a very curious kid and a smart one too. He is famous for discovering a force with which Earth pulls objects towards its center. This is called Gravity. He also came up with the three basic ideas of most motion. When ideas are tested and verified many, many times over the years, they become laws. Newton's ideas are now called Newton's Three Laws of Motion.

Even without learning Physics, we know that if we kick a ball it will move away from us, and if we let go of a toy we are holding up in the air, it will fall down.

Scientists were able to show that these ideas are intuitive (the power to know or understand something without thinking it through in a logical way) for babies as young as 7 months old and to some chimpanzees.

A new research revealed that even dogs understand that.

So how do you test this understanding in dogs? Can you ask a dog if it understands that a ball we placed on the floor will move only if another ball will hit it? Of course not! :-)

The scientists showed two different short videos to 14 dogs:

- In the first video they rolled a ball toward a resting ball. When the first ball hit the second ball, the second ball started to roll. There is no surprise here - we expect the second ball to start rolling (following the first law of motion that states that an object at rest will stay at rest until a force will act upon it).

- In the second video, the first ball (the one that was rolling) stopped moving before it hit the resting ball, BUT the second ball started to roll. Can the second ball start roiling by itself? This is against the physics laws and surprising to watch!!

Dogs' looking times and pupil dilation response reveal expectations about contact causality

Christoph J. Völter and Ludwig Huber

What Happened?

When the dogs watched the second video they were confused - - the dogs did not expect the second ball to move when nothing hit it. The dogs seemed to understand basic laws of physics that dictate how things move.

Famous Physicists

  • Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) - study the relationship between astronomy and physics and how objects fall down

  • Isaac Newton (1642-1727) Explaining the theories of gravity and motion

  • Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) Inventing the first electric battery

  • Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) Created the first AC (Alternating Current) system

  • Marie Curie (1867-1934) Discovered radioactivity and the elements polonium and radium

  • Albert Einstein (1885-1962) Advancing the Theory of Relativity

  • Stephen Hawking (1942 - 2018) Explaining Black holes and Advances on the General Theory of Relativity and Quantum mechanics

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